The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck just below the Adam's apple. Although relatively small, the thyroid gland plays a huge role in our body, influencing the function of many of the body’s most important organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin. Ensuring that the thyroid gland is healthy and functioning properly is vitally important to the body's overall well-being. How does your thyroid gland work? Your thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones to prompt your cells to perform a function at a certain rate. The thyroid gland uses iodine from the food we eat to produce two hormones: triiodothyronine, or T3 and thyroxine, also called T4. These hormones are stored in the thyroid gland and released into the blood stream to meet the metabolic needs of the cells in your body. The thyroid gland is controlled by the master gland in the brain called the pituitary gland. It produces a hormone called TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), which controls the rate of production of the thyroid hormones. TSH levels in your bloodstream rise or fall depending on whether enough thyroid hormone is produced to meet your body’s needs. Higher levels of TSH prompt the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone. Conversely, low TSH levels signal the thyroid to slow down production. What can go wrong? Disease or damage to the thyroid can cause your thyroid to not produce enough hormones. This would slow down all of your body’s functions, a condition known as hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. As your body slows down, you may feel cold, tired and even depressed. You may gain weight, even though you’re eating less. Your thyroid could also produce too much hormone sending your systems into overdrive, a condition known as hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. If you’re hyperthyroid, your pulse may be racing, you feel irritable and overheated, and you have trouble sleeping. You may lose weight in spite of a good appetite and experience anxiety and nervousness. As with hypothyroidism, you may develop a goiter; in this case, your thyroid enlarges because your thyroid is working so hard overproducing thyroid hormone. There are many causes for developing over and underactive thyroid disease. How common is thyroid disease? Thyroid disease is more common than diabetes or heart disease. 200 million people worldwide have thyroid disease– and more than half of those people remain undiagnosed. Women are five times more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism (when the gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone). Aging is just one risk factor for hypothyroidism. How important is my thyroid in my overall well-being? The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, which controls virtually every cell, tissue and organ in the body. Untreated thyroid disease can affect almost all the organs in the body. Research also shows that there is a strong genetic link between thyroid disease and other autoimmune diseases, including types of diabetes, arthritis and anemia. How do you know if you have a thyroid problem? Many symptoms may be hidden or mimic other diseases and conditions. If you are in doubt, the best way to know for sure is to ask your doctor for a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test, a simple blood test to verify your thyroid gland’s condition. Also, take a minute and perform a self-Neck Check. Thyroid disease often runs in families; so review of their medical histories may reveal other individuals with thyroid problems. What are some of the reasons to consider a thyroid evaluation?